IT managers start supporting employee-owned smartphones

Still, about a third of companies frown on using personal smartphones for work tasks, Forrester finds

Despite the increasing use of smartphones at work, more than a third of companies still provide no support for personal phones or outright prohibit their use at the office.

This was a finding by Forrester Research in a recent survey of 1,051 IT managers in North America and Europe. The data found that while 26% of the companies don't provide support for personal mobile phones and smartphones, another 10% prohibit the use of personal devices, for a total of 36%.

At the same time, about 16% of the IT managers surveyed said their companies support all kinds of personal devices, while 14% support only certain types and models.

Some companies have developed long sets of policies for when and how to support personal devices used by workers. The most progressive companies are investing in mobile device management (MDM) software, available from many vendors, to track employee devices and the applications used on them. This software also has the ability to wipe sensitive data off of a lost device.

Forrester said in a new research note that increasing numbers of employee-owned devices and questions of supporting them are "crippling" existing mobile strategies. The effect has led companies to rethink their strategies and to begin supporting both company-owned and employee-owned devices.

Forrester said that nearly 600 of its clients asked for advice in the past six months, including ways to support employee-owned devices. The research firm gleaned some lessons from early adopters of mobile device management in a set of extensive interviews.

Among the tips they received was that IT managers should create a single mobile policy for both corporate and employee-owned devices. Many firms either have no policy or have practices that apply only to corporate-owned devices.

Because Apple's iPhones and iPads and devices running the Android operating system are most preferred by employees, Forrester said progressive IT managers are starting to support both platforms and work around some of their security limitations.

Forrester found that IT managers will deliver only basic services, such as email, contacts and calendar functionality, to Android and Apple's iOS devices because of security concerns. However, the companies plan to allow more functionality as the operating systems and the mobile device management software matures. More functionality could include access to corporate apps used for inventory control, for example.

Regarding support for personally owned devices, Forrester said MDM software can help protect a company should it need to wipe data from an employee's phone. But users first need to be aware of the possibility that their data could be wiped from their device. Forrester found that some companies compromise by providing some support of employee-owned devices but then don't allow employees to use the devices to connect to company networks.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

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